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Week of: March 24th. 2013 ...
Women Walk to Heal the River
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Musings About the Land: The Turning of Spring to Summer
Article ID: 12544
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: April 27th. 2008
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The most amazing thing, for me at least, about coming home is returning to the rhythms of the place where I first began to study Paganism, and thus the Wheel of the Year. As a smart-a**ed teenager, I didn’t pay much attention as I followed along behind my garden obsessed Mother. In fact, it took living out in the country, on a small acreage in Alberta, to make me pay proper attention to the turning of the seasons.
At first, this was little more than annoyance at the drifts of half-melted snow stubbornly clinging to the shady bottoms of the trees at Beltaine. When I look back, I shake my head at the fact it required snowstorms for Ostara to make me really and truly pay attention to the cycle of the Seasons.
Returning to the Okanagan, a large lake valley in British Columbia, Canada, after nearly 7 years, I was looking forward to learning the rhythms of a much warmer climate. I came back not long before Litha, and with Beltaine almost here; I have now spent nearly a full Turn of the Wheel here. And I have discovered I did not need to learn the rhythms and cycle of the land here. I already had learned years ago, even if I failed to realize it for what it was.
For honoring the changing seasons is more than noticing when the first robin appears, or tying pink ribbons on tree limbs. It goes much deeper than lighting a fire at sunrise, or even weaving grain into a dolly. The seasons are a part of us. Childhood memories are full of walking in the Autumn fog, jumping into leaf piles, playing in the warm Spring rain, waiting for the first big snow storm, and sunburns in Summer. The rhythms of life dance in harmony with the seasons, even if we do not recognize it as such.
Spring has arrived when the family cats stop spending most of their time indoors. Summer is on its way when they take up spending their afternoons sleeping in the lavender patch, even before it has bloomed. There is a bald spot in the big patch of English lavender from years of my mother’s, now elderly cat sunning himself in the same spot, year after year. How glorious a place to catnap!
I know that summer is fully upon us when, during the heat of the day, the cats move from the lavender to the sheltering shade of the maple-wall. Roughly 6 feet high, 8 feet long and 5 feet thick, a gang of young Maple trees has been shaped into a wall-shape by my tenacious Mother. Just before bud-burst, we trim them back, never allowing them to become more than shrubbery. Providing shade and a dividing line between two areas of the yard.
We live in a dry region, and with many old Western Red Cedars towering above the property; other plant-life must be carefully managed. Cedars are thirsty trees; they are often the first to die when there is drought. We lost 2 large Cedar trees and a few smaller cedar shrubs last year, when construction on the hills above changed the course of underground streams. If we allowed the Maples to grow overmuch, they might kill off the Cedars. Natural selection, perhaps, but still costly to have 20 foot dead trees removed, and dangerous to leave a large dead tree to fall on its own.
If the Cedars died, much shade would be lost, causing catastrophe for Mom’s garden, and many plants that grow under their sheltering limbs. The greenery they give to us in winter would be gone, the shelter from wind and rain lost. I have a special fondness for the Cedars in Mom’s yard. Especially the one growing closets to the maple-wall. This Cedar has kindly provided materials for smudge sticks, and one besom handle, over the years, only ever asking in return that it get enough water to thrive.
Between the maple-wall and my favorite Cedar is a lovely patch of grass, clover, and Canadian thistle. A few times over the decade-plus my mother has lived here, a fairy ring of mushrooms has grown up (always seemingly overnight) in this patch. Mom now makes a point of leaving birdseed in this area, along with hanging birdfeeders nearer to the house. Clippings from grooming the dogs are left here in the Spring and again before Winter, providing insulating material for bird nests.
This is where I left my very first Offering when I was just 15, this is where I leave them now. The thistle and clover are greening but not flowering yet. When they do, you can see why the Old Ones favor this spot.
At the edge of this special spot, a great old patch of yarrow trails over the retaining wall. Here is one of the first herbs I ever planted, still growing strong. In fact, it has now become cause of much frustration for my Mother, as the hardy yarrow tries to take over much of the garden and the lawn. There are areas of the one acre yard where yarrow, mint and scotch moss vie for dominance of the formerly-all-grass-lawn. Ah well, I would rather walk on fragrant mint and flowering yarrow, with soft moss underneath my feet than grass.
There are half a dozen types of mustard growing wild and unchecked in the corners of the yard. Right now they bloom in yellow, white and purple. I keep threatening to make a salad of them, along with other gleanings from the garden. Pansies perhaps? The nasturtiums have not bloomed yet; will not for a little while.
Mom was quite annoyed when I identified a much-hated weed as wild ginger.
Native Americans used the root to flavor foods much as real ginger is used (This plant is not related to the ginger you can find at the local grocery store). In addition it was thought to protect those who ate spoiled meat or food that might be poisoned. It was used for many medical purposes including the treatment of digestive disorders, especially gas, and in a poultice on sores. The dried powered leaves were used to promote sneezing. Often it was used to promote sweating, reduce fever and for coughs and sore throats. In other words, I have chosen a patch of it Mom cannot kill off until I have made good use of it, and ensured at least one patch will come back next year.
My favorite tree in the yard stands guardian by the front door. Planted when the house was first built over 50 years ago, she stands wide and taller than the house she shelters. A beautiful Western Yew, who would have been comfortable in any ancient Druid grove or old-time churchyard. This special lady provided me with my first wand, before I knew how some Pagans are uncomfortable with the Yew in Circle, due to its associations with Death and the Underworld.
When I first began to study Shamanism, I would visualize her as my connection to the World Tree, making it one of my entrances into the Otherworlds. When a strong wind or storm blows a limb from her body, I reverently gather it up. Her lost limbs have become wands, her leaves collected and use in “flying” incense. Whatever remains is lovingly placed in the balefire. Even when I lived far away, if I came to visit, I often brought pieces of her (rescued from the compost pile) back to Alberta with me.
This fine lady Yew shelters many birds year round in her arms. The robins are especially fond of her. The birds eat her red berries, immune to its poison, as I try to keep my curious dog form doing the same.
When I first started my path, this lady was my secret Yule tree. Knowing that we will be moving, and leaving her behind this Summer, I have endeavored to pot some of her young daughters, in hopes of taking some of her essence with me. I know Spring is here when I see robins building nests in her arms, and jays squawk bossily from the very crown of her.
Summer comes with the blooming of the lavender patch, when the last of the Canadian violet has lost its flower. Summer comes when the last lilac bush drops is fragrant purple blossoms and the wild roses are in full bloom. Summer has come when the Cedars thirstily drink every drop of water we give them. When the Tamarisks are fully green and they prepare to bloom in a delicate light pink. Summer has come when the heat drives us to stand in the slow and low flowing stream, under the shelter of the shrubby Birches who grow on its banks.
I shall miss this Land more than I can say, when we leave next month, headed for a new valley. I look forward to learning the cycles of a new place, but I know that the rhythms of this place will forever stay in my blood and bone. The Yew is a part of my Soul, as are the Cedars, the yarrow and the cooling stream.
O, glorious Spring, Oh magnificent Summer.
Gazing at the beauty that is the home of my teen years, I look up upon the sheltering mountains so close to my Mother’s home. There the mountainside is scarred from a forest fire years ago, caused by a combination of poor forest management and lightning.
I strain to hear a stream that once ran through the property all Spring, but now often runs dry due to construction changing the waterways. I walk along the edge of the property, picking up trash commuters have tossed from their car windows. I gaze sadly at a neighbor wasting liters of water on his great grass lawn. I fight with my Mom to save the trees and plant life endangered by changing water tables, pollution, and climate change.
I wonder what the cycle of the Seasons will be like here in another ten years. And I worry.
Location: Ottawa, Ontario
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